BrewDog Sink the Bismark
Its not very often that a craft brewery makes national news headlines. Its even less often when that brewery is in Scotland!
Brewdog has always been a unique brewery known for pushing the envelope of craft beer. Much like Dogfish Head in the United States, Brewdog has use unusual ingredients, non-standard brewing practices, and show-y gimmicks to sell beer. While its debatable whether their beers are generally world class successes, they certainly make waves in the brewing community. Sink the Bismark was just one small part of a wave that consumed much of the beer world (and general population’s) attention for the better part of a year. From the fall of 2009 til summer of 2010 an epic battle of high alcohol beers raged across 3 continents.
Until November of 2009, the world record for the highest ABV beer was held by Sam Adams for its world class (but incredibly expensive) Utopias. At 26 (now 27) % abv, this beer is massive! But in the fall of 2010 the guys at Brewdog decided to take a stab at the title.
The reasoning behind the Brewdog crew’s stab at the title is one that few even in the beer community realize. Several years earlier, BrewDog had introduced a new beer they called Tokyo. An 18% abv imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels this beer blew the socks off the other beers produced in Great Britain. Proud of their creation, the brewers had their hopes crushed when the government told them that producing such a high abv beer was encouraging drunken behaviour and was not allowed. Frustrated, the Brewdog guys fired back with Nanny State, at 0.5% abv IPA. They got their point across but not before they had already started on their polar opposite concoction.
Since the Scottish brewers were unable to get yeast to survive in 25+% abv environments, the brewers used an old technique known as freeze distillation (used often in Eisbock production) to push their beers higher and higher in alcohol content. Their first creation was Tactical Nuclear Penguin which tagged in at a massive 32% abv. To their surprise however, a german brewery fired back with a 40% abv beer within weeks! So, the brewers went back to the drawing board and cranked out a very small batch of a double (triple? quadruple?) IPA aged in scotch barrels that they called Sink the Bismark. At 41% held the record for a mere month before being topped once again. The race has since continued culminating in some insane 55%, 60%, etc beers that were produced in such small quantities that they were never commercially available (see: End of History) but Sink the Bismark remains the highest ABV commercially sold beer in the world!
Now what about the beer?
The beer is more of a liquor and should be treated as such. A 12 ounce bottle with almost no carbonation can be kept in the fridge (or actually in the freezer!) after opening for several weeks with ease.
I poured a mere ounce into a fluted shot glass. The beer pours thick and viscous. no head, no carbonation. Its a very pretty yellow-orange almost a honey nectar shade. One the nose its incredibly sweet and hoppy. There is a massive booziness to it as well (no surprise there) but the sweet citrusy aromas actually are quite pleasant. The first sip sits thick on the tongue. There is a wonderful bouquet of floral and citrusy flavours from what I can only assume are an insane amount of hops. The scotch barrel aging does really show in the beer (but with only a few weeks in the barrel I’m not surprised). There is a HINT of smokiness but, after the first sip, flavours become more and more difficult to distinguish. Upon swallowing the first tiny sip a solid burn travels down the back of my throat. The 41% is not hidden at all on the finish of this. Halfway through my ounce my tongue is a bit numb and the only thing I can taste is hops. Its thick and syrupy in a wonderful way and incredibly tasty for such a potent brew. While it gets a bad rap (mostly from people who can’t handle the ABV) I found this to be a stellar brew and one I wish I could have again and again (in place of a glass of scotch rather than in place of a different beer.
Why you’ll likely never try it: Sink the Bismark is not only incredibly rare to see in any stores it also commands a mighty 90-110 dollars for a 12 ounce bottle when it does. You’re better off buying it direct from the brewery (which will cost you a womping 40 pounds (which is nearly 65 dollars at the current exchange rate). Add to that international shipping and you’re paying 80+ for a bottle. To top that off, batches are so small that there is often a waiting list even if you are willing to shell out!
Is it worth the hunt?
If you can stomach the ~100 dollar pricetag… Yes. This is one of the rare times when I felt the price justified the beer. This beer started at ~15% before it went into scotch barrels. It was freeze distilled up to 41% meaning the brewers pitched likely 3/4 or more of the beer in the process of getting the ABV so high. So in reality you’re paying for almost 40 ounces of a barrel aged quadruple IPA shipped over seas. Still a steep price to pay but give how painstaking the process is I think the pricetag is totally justifiable. I just wish I had the money to blow on a bottle to put in my cellar as I’m sure this beer will be great now, a year from now, 5 years from now… hell 50 years from now!